Many lawyers bemoan the need to sit behind a desk staring at a computer numerous hours a day. They feel that their job, in particular marketing for that job, demands that they email, Facebook, tweet, etc. To those lawyers, I give my wholehearted permission to get up from that desk. In fact, I insist on it. Step away from that computer and instead go talk to real people.
Thanks to the social media phenomenon, some lawyers may think that they’re doing all the networking they need on the Internet. After all, when you invite other business associates to be part of your online contact network or they invite you, the creation of such a network soon grows potential contacts exponentially. Do you really need a physical meeting with any of these people to get value from them as contacts?
The answer, I firmly believe, is yes. Any business, including the business of law, grows through personal relationships. Relationships are established one at a time, between lawyer and prospective client. The successful law firm is the one that amasses and draws upon this fund of relationships created by individual lawyers.
Can you get by with Twitter? Say your practice focuses on bankruptcy. You can search for “bankruptcy” and find many Twitter users all over the world who are talking about bankruptcy in real time. But is Twitter worthwhile for building relationships? My experience showed that within 48 hours of becoming a Twitter user, I received two invitations to speak at conferences. Beyond that, however, I have not seen any revenue generated. The value depends on your metric for success: revenue or contacts who may eventually generate revenue.
The point is that there may be better and more effective ways to network — directly with real live people. If these relationships are important, where do you start? The fact is that every lawyer already has built concentric networking circles that can be expanded to serve as business development connections. The first of these concentric circles includes your friends and family, and the widening circles beyond that core include the following:
Current clients, particularly those who can refer you to new contacts.
Past clients who may have developed new needs since you last worked with them.
Former classmates in undergraduate or law school.
Former colleagues at other firms or organizations where you may have worked.
Industry partners/professional service providers.
Fellow members of boards of directors and other leadership groups.
Contacts made at bar association events, community activities and industry groups.
These contacts create two types of networks. In your community network, you interact with individuals who may not see you as a professional service provider but who nonetheless represent potential clients: participants in cultural events that you enjoy, alumni association contacts, and/or members of an industry group in which you participate.
By contrast, your professional network includes professional referral sources who may not become clients themselves but who can refer you to theirs. These referral sources include brokers, bankers, CPAs, consultants, financial planners and other lawyers.
Bring to these networks the same organization and focus that you would to an investment portfolio, categorizing individuals by geographic location, by professional specialty, by activity, and by personal interest. Then begin networking — the practical process of systematically expanding business development relationships by meeting and talking with them. You may find it much more rewarding than constantly typing 140-character Twitter messages.